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All Eyes Fixed on Ferguson’s April 7 Election

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – If the Black residents of Ferguson, Mo., want to radically reform the political climate that encouraged police to disproportionately ticket, fine and arrest them to collect revenue for the city coffers, they’ll have to do more than embrace non-violent acts of civil disobedience and peaceful protests – they will have to vote.

In the north St. Louis suburb that is nearly 70 percent Black, five of six city councilmembers are White and the mayor is a White Republican. The police force is almost 95 percent White.

On April 7, voters in Ferguson will go to the polls in a round of highly-anticipated elections for three out of the six of the city council seats.

“We are in the process now of preparing people to go to polls so that we can turn the tide of the council, where the real power lies in Ferguson,” said Rev. Traci Blackmon, pastor of Christ the King Church of Christ in Florissant, Mo., adding that four residents who have been actively involved in the protests are running for those three open seats.

The city council selects the city manager, who supervises every department in Ferguson. While Mayor James Knowles brings home $350 a month for serving as mayor of the St. Louis suburb. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Ferguson city manager, John Shaw’s annual salary soared to $120,000 after he was hired in 2007 at $85,000. Shaw resigned shortly after the release of two separate Justice Department reports, one of which painted him as one of the chief architects of a plan that turned the Ferguson police into collection agents for the city.

Getting voters to turn out will be an uphill battle for the activists that have led protests in Ferguson for more than 200 days since Officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teenager.

CNN reported that roughly 42 percent of Ferguson voters cast ballots during last November’s midterm elections and that only a few hundred residents had registered to vote between August 11 and October 8.

In 2013, even though Blacks account for nearly 70 percent of the population in Ferguson, Whites made up more than half of the Ferguson electorate, according to voter data analyzed by the Washington Post. Less than 20 percent of eligible voters showed up at the polls when Ferguson Mayor James Knowles was elected in 2011.

Blackmon said that low voter turnout in local elections is not unique to Ferguson. Municipal elections are often held separately from national elections and in some jurisdictions party affiliation is left off of the ballot completely. Blackmon said that economic depravity and educational inequality have caused some to turn away from the political process.

Denise Lieberman, an attorney with the Advancement Project who also co-chairs the Don’t Shoot Coalition, a network of more than 50 diverse local organizations that came together in the wake of the shooting of Michael Brown, said that the epidemics of police violence and voter suppression add to that malaise.

Police investigating the shooting left Brown’s body in the middle of the road for more than four hours, then responded with military-style weapons and gear when residents began to protest. The events were chronicled on social media and transmitted across the world. Attorney General Eric Holder visited Ferguson to underscore the Justice Department’s commitment to investigate the shooting and the police response. Activists from Ferguson met with President Barack Obama at the White House.

Following two separate reports from the Justice Department, a slew of resignations including the city manager and the chief of police and the shootings of two police officers, with local elections rapidly approaching, activists say that protests will continue.

Rev. Traci Blackmon, the pastor of Christ the King Church of Christ in Florissant, Mo., said that the activists were praying for the police and their families just like they continue to pray for the victims of police violence in the region.

“We must not let the rogue actions of a few derail the positive path that the Department of Justice has placed us on,” said Blackmon. “We will continue to pray with our feet until there is no more blood in the streets.”

After an extensive investigation into the August 9 shooting death of Michael Brown, the Justice Department released a report that stated, “Under the law, it was not unreasonable for Wilson to perceive that Brown posed a threat of serious physical harm, either to him or to others. When Brown turned around and moved toward Wilson, the applicable law and evidence do not support finding that Wilson was unreasonable in his fear that Brown would once again attempt to harm him and gain control of his gun.”

The report also stated that, “There are no credible witness accounts that state that Brown was clearly attempting to surrender when Wilson shot him,” and that witnesses who said that the teenager was trying to surrender when he was fatally shot, “could not be relied upon in a prosecution because they are irreconcilable with the physical evidence, inconsistent with the credible accounts of other eyewitnesses, inconsistent with the witness’s own prior statements, or in some instances, because the witnesses have acknowledged that their initial accounts were untrue.”

On the same day, the Justice Department also released a searing report that found Ferguson Police Department not only violated First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution, and federal statutory, law officials routinely urged Thomas Jackson, the police chief, to generate more revenue through law enforcement and disproportionately targeted discriminated African American residents for searches and use of excessive force.

Montague Simmons, the executive director of the Organization for Black Struggle, a group founded in 1980 that advocates for a society free of exploitation and oppression, said that the realities exposed in the Justice Department’s report on the Ferguson police department are realities that community members have known for a very long time.

“Even with the findings being revealed, we have yet to really see clear action that there is going to be an effective transformation of the way that policing authorities are allowed to operate in our communities,” said Montague. “We’ve seen some resignations, but no real commitment toward change officially coming from Ferguson or the [surrounding] St. Louis County municipalities who are guilty of the same things.”

Rev. Osagyefo Sekou agreed.

Sekou of the First Baptist Church in Jamaica Plain, Mass., said that the events that occurred in Ferguson follow a familiar pattern of injustice that is happening around the country.

“Throughout the nation Black communities see Ferguson in their own experiences with police,” Sekou. “The resignations and recent shake ups in Ferguson are simply not enough. We need wholesale change.”

Lieberman said that Ferguson groups have had many meetings with members of the Justice Department and other members of the administration about necessary reforms for police departments, local communities and the statehouses.

Lieberman also led a group to Missouri’s statehouse to advocate for legislation that called for greater accountability for police actions and reporting of interactions with residents, greater civilian input and oversight for local police departments.

“This is a movement that is deeply-rooted in principles of nonviolent civil disobedience. And it works,” said Lieberman. “There is no indication that anything would be changing in Ferguson if it weren’t for the people that have taken to the streets for more than 200 days demanding change, forcing government actors to step in.”

Middle East Conflicts Give Hefty Boost to Arms Merchants

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By Thalif Deen
Special to the NNPA from The Final Call

UNITED NATIONS (IPS) – The ongoing conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen have helped spiral arms sales upwards to the Middle East, according to a study released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

The primary beneficiaries were the United States and Russia, whose overall arms exports show a marked increase through 2014, with China lagging behind, according to the latest figures.

Arms sales to Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states—Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and the United Arab Emirates (UAE)—increased by 71 percent from 2005–2009 to 2010–14, accounting for 54 percent of imports to the Middle East in the latter period.

Saudi Arabia rose to become the second largest importer of major weapons worldwide in 2010–14, increasing the volume of its arms imports four times compared to 2005–2009.

Several of the GCC states, specifically Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar, are significant suppliers of weapons, mostly unofficial and clandestine, to some of the warring factions in Syria, Libya, Iraq and Yemen.

Pieter Wezeman, senior researcher at SIPRI’s Arms and Military Expenditure Program, said GCC states have rapidly expanded and modernized their militaries—primarily with arms from the United States and Europe.

“The GCC states, along with Egypt, Iraq, Israel and Turkey in the wider Middle East, are scheduled to receive further large orders of major arms in the coming years,” he added.

Dr. Natalie J. Goldring, a senior fellow with the Security Studies Program in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, told IPS the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East and the former Soviet Union provide ready markets for arms transfers.

But those transfers, she pointed out, aren’t always reflected in the SIPRI data. SIPRI’s database focuses on major conventional weapons.

“This means that the light weapons and small arms often featured in recent conflicts are not captured in the SIPRI totals,” said Ms. Golding, who also represents the Acronym Institute at the United Nations on conventional weapons and arms trade issues.

She said the drop in crude oil prices since September 2014 reduces the revenues available to oil-rich nations.

According to the International Monetary Fund, the oil price cuts have had strong effects across the oil-producing nations because of their dependence on oil exports.

For the short term, those effects can be moderated by using the financial buffers that are available to countries such as Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.

In the past, however, financial pressures have only slowed weapons acquisitions for as long as they have persisted, Ms. Goldring said.

“As the oil-supplier countries have recovered economically, they have resumed their arms purchases. Financial pressures are not an effective long-term control measure,” she noted.

According to the most recent SIPRI data, roughly three-quarters of all countries in the world imported major conventional weapons between 2010-2014. Just 10 countries accounted for roughly half of all imports of major conventional weapons during this period.

Of the top 10 largest importers of major weapons during the five-year period 2010–14, five are in Asia: India (15 percent of global arms imports), China (5 percent), Pakistan (4 percent), South Korea (3 percent) and Singapore (3 percent).

These five countries accounted for 30 percent of the total volume of arms imports worldwide.

India accounted for 34 percent of the volume of arms imports to Asia, more than three times as much as China. China’s arms imports actually decreased by 42 percent between 2005–2009 and 2010–14.

The new SIPRI data make it clear that the United States and Russia continue to dominate the global arms trade in major conventional weapons.

The United States accounted for 31 percent of the market, up from 29 percent from 2005-2009. Russia’s share increased even more significantly, going from 22 percent of the world market in 2005-2009 to a 27 percent share of the international market from 2010-2014.

“The United States has long seen arms exports as a major foreign policy and security tool, but in recent years exports are increasingly needed to help the U.S. arms industry maintain production levels at a time of decreasing U.S. military expenditure,” said Dr. Aude Fleurant, director of the SIPRI’s Arms and Military Expenditure Program.

He said Asian countries generally still depend on imports of major weapons, which have strongly increased and will remain high in the near future.

Goldring told IPS that although SIPRI notes the significant percentage increase in Chinese exports between the two periods, China is still a minor supplier in comparison to the United States and Russia.

Even with a large increase in its exports, China still only accounts for five percent of the global trade.

The United States and Russia alone account for nearly 60 percent of the world market. U.S. and Russian dominance of the world market is simply not threatened by China, she said.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com.

Barbados to Dump the Queen

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Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News

Tiny Barbados is preparing to dump Britain’s Queen Elizabeth after centuries of imperial colonial rule. The nation has decided to replace her with a local head of state and, like Guyana, Trinidad and a few other Caribbean trade bloc states, soon proclaim itself a republic.

Long regarded as the world’s best organized and most well run Afro state, leading authorities on the tourism-dependent island of 300,000 people said this week that the time has long passed for it to become a republic and fully govern its own affairs.

At no other place in the region do British citizens feel as comfortable as in Barbados, where they are treated as mini royals, but the country’s current generation of leaders, surprisingly led by conservative Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, says there is no reason for the aging Queen of Britain to still loom large over the island as its head of state and, as is the case now, have the final say as to who is appointed as the island’s governor and representative of Buckingham Palace.

On the 166-square-mile island near Trinidad and just below the Windward Islands, nearly every village has a recognizable British name, be it Bridgetown the capital or districts bearing such titles as Dover or St. Lawrence or St. Phillip. British rock stars such as Sir Cliff Richard maintain homes on the island and a string of English celebrities such as ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair and entertainment mogul Simon Cowell usually holiday there in full public view. Barbados is also the birthplace of Rihanna. Tiger Woods had his wedding at a posh island west coast facility a few years ago, and Oprah Winfrey has investments there.

“We cannot pat ourselves on the shoulder at having gone into independence, having de-colonized our politics. We cannot pat ourselves on the shoulders at having decolonized our jurisprudence by delinking from the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and explain to anybody why we continue to have a monarchical system,” Stuart said.

The Privy Council he speaks about is Britain’s highest judicial court, which also serves as the final appeals court for much of the bloc’s member states barring Guyana, Belize, Barbados and Dominica. Others have pledged to join the Trinidad-based court in the future.

Stuart did not name a date when a local would become the ceremonial head of state, as is the case in neighboring Trinidad and Dominica, but said the entire changeover and abandonment of centuries of a British monarch as the island’s chief representative will come shortly. Guyana, Suriname and Haiti have executive heads of state.

“We respect [the queen] very highly as head of the Commonwealth and accept that she and all of her successors will continue to be at the apex of our political understanding. But in terms of Barbados’ constitutional status, we have to move from a monarchical system to a republican form of government in the very near future,” Stuart told party supporters at a function.

“A republican form of government stipulates that those who run the people’s affairs should be chosen directly or indirectly by the people themselves. We already do that. We have been doing that continuously since 1951, when we got universal adult suffrage.”

In announcing plans to overhaul the system of governance, Stuart appears on course to trump Portia Simpson-Miller, his Jamaican prime ministerial colleague who had vowed at the start of her 2011 term that she would lead the charge for Jamaica to also go down that road. Debate about such plans have since died down, as various developments in local politics have become major distractions to such political ambitions.

Ben Crump: NNPA Newsmaker of the Year

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Benjamin Crump, the lawyer who skyrocketed to national prominence by representing the family of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed Florida teenager who was followed, confronted and shot to death by George Zimmerman in Sanford, Fla., said that since the 4th grade, he always knew that he wanted to grow up and fight for the community.

“The measure of a man is defined by the impact that they make on the world,” said Crump. “Everyday we have to get up and ask, ‘What impact are we going to make on the world?’ and we have to do it, because our children are watching us.”

During the 2015 Black Press Week, the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) Foundation honored Crump as the Newsmaker of the Year for his service to the community, especially to the families of young people of color who had been brutalized or killed by law enforcement officials. The NNPA is a trade group that represents more than 200 Black newspapers published in the United States.

“I go on FOX News a lot and I have these intelligent debates with these Bill O’Reillys and these Meagan Kellys and I know that when, I leave they’re going to make it look bad and everything, but you gotta go, you gotta keep talking to them and not let them [create] the only narrative,” said Crump. “We’ll come on to talk about Trayvon, and we’ll come on to talk about Michael Brown and Eric Garner, because if don’t talk about it, it’s swept under the rug.”

Crump added: “So, I don’t care if you criticize me and say that we’re trying to be race baiters, because the greatest fear is to remain silent. Silence is almost like betrayal.”

Crump, 45, said that giving a voice to the voiceless has been the most important part of his career.

“Making people know the name of Trayvon Martin, the name of the Michael Brown, know the name of the Tamir Rice, know the name of Chavis Carter, know the name of Kendrick Johnson in Valdosta, Ga., know the name of Victor White III in New Iberia, La., know the name of Alesia Thomas in Los Angeles, Calif., Jesus Huerta in Durham, N.C., know the name of Leon Ford in Pittsburgh, Pa., know the name of Antonio Zambrano-Montes in Pasco, Wash., the list goes on and on,” said Crump. “If this was happening to White children, it would be a war.”

During his remarks at the dinner, Crump credited Black-owned news media for daring to write and talk about the phenomenon he called the ‘‘Houdini handcuffed suicide killings” of young people of color in the back of police cars.

One of those “Houdini” killings involved Chavis Carter. On July 28, 2012, following a traffic stop in Jonesboro, Ark., police pulled Carter, 21, out of the truck that he was riding in with two White men. After searching Carter twice, police said that they recovered a small amount of marijuana, then put him in the back of their police car, handcuffed behind his back, where he supposedly shot himself in the head with a hidden handgun.

In 2013, Theresa Rudd, Carter’s mother, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Jonesboro police department. The suit said that no fingerprints were found on the gun that police claimed Carter used to shoot himself in the head and that the police car was washed, destroying potential evidence that could be used in future investigations.

The arresting officers, Ronald Marsh and Keith Baggett, received one month paid administrative and returned to active duty following the shooting.

“Without the Black Press I don’t know where we would be in these campaigns of justice for all these unknown, unnamed people of color who are killed everyday all across the world and swept under the rug,” said Crump.

Jennifer S. Carroll, the former lieutenant governor of Florida, who was honored with a Torch Award for her successful political career, also thanked the Black press for sharing her story. Carroll was the first woman to be elected as lieutenant governor and the first African American of Caribbean descent to be elected statewide since Reconstruction.

“Had it not been for the Black press, my accomplishments would not have been told at all in mainstream media,” Carroll said. “We have an audience that needs to be informed and the Black press fills that vacuum that exists in mainstream press.”

Carroll continued: “For many of you, it’s been a struggle to keep the lights on, but you know the importance of the work that you do that your commitment is to not let down the journalists and the publishers that have come before you.”

Filmmaker Jeff Friday (Entertainment), B. Doyle Mitchell, Jr., president and CEO of the Industrial Bank (Business), and Grammy-award winning gospel singer Bishop Hezekiah Walker (Religion) were also honored with Torch Awards. Willie Myrick, was presented NNPA’s first “Junior Newsmaker of the Year” Award. Last year, at the age of 9, Myrick was kidnapped while playing near his Atlanta home. He sang Bishop Hezekiah Walker’s hit song, “Every Praise” for three hours until his abductor finally threw him on the street and drove away.

In a separate ceremony, the late Francis Page, Sr., founder and publisher of the Houston NewsPages, and Dr. Ludwaldo O. Perry, co-founder of the Tennessee Tribune with his wife, Rosetta Miller-Perry, were enshrined in the Gallery of Distinguished Black Publishers at Howard University.

At the awards dinner, Friday said that the more that he traveled around the world promoting Black films and culture, the more he realized that the perceptions of African Americans are being poisoned by the mainstream media.

“We’ve been talking about Black lives matter,” said Friday. “But Black images matter, too.”

Black Press Faces Challenging, but Hopeful Future

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By Freddie Allen
Senior Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Jordan Shanks, a sophomore English major at Howard University admitted that before Black Press Week, he didn’t know much about the Black Press or the Richmond Free Press, the Black newspaper published in the Virginia city where he grew up.

“The state of the Black Press is impacted by the generation gap between the older folks and the younger folks,” said Shanks.

Members of the Black community, young and old, believe that bridging that gap will be critical to the future of the Black Press.

Despite myriad challenges facing the Black Press, Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr., president and CEO of the National Newspapers Publishers Association (NNPA), a federation of more that 200-Black owned newspapers, said that 188-year legacy of African American newspapers remains strategically important, insightful, indigenous and impactful.

“The challenge for us today, however, is to have a greater sense of economic accountability and economic equity and parity with those companies that are the profit beneficiaries of the trillion dollar consumer spending of [Black] people in the United States and throughout the world,” said Chavis.

“What is the state of the Black Press in America and in the world today? It is financial assessment time,” said Chavis. “The Black Press needs to be financially more sustainable and profitable.”

Chavis and others also echoed Shanks’ concerns about a generational and cultural gap preventing youth from engaging with the Black Press.

E.R. Shipp, an associate professor and journalist-in-residence at Morgan State University in Baltimore, said that shortly after she began teaching a course on Black media at the school, she showed her students the documentary “The Black Press: Soldiers without Swords,” then she tasked them to start tracking Black newspapers online.

“Oh, my God, my students didn’t find too much to be impressed with,” said Shipp. “After seeing all of this glorious past, they saw a very disappointing present,” said Shipp. “Too many people involved in the Black Press today think that they are living that glorious past and they are not being real about what’s happening now.”

Many students have never heard of the Black Press, said Shipp.

“The challenge is not just to celebrate what has gone before, to celebrate that legacy, but to actually do something to make sure that the Black Press is known by the younger generation, embraced by the next generation, and eventually taken over by the next generation,” said Shipp. “But right now, I say the state of the Black Press is shaky as far as reaching beyond those who have grown up in the Black Press.”

Jake Oliver former chairman of the NNPA and publisher of The Afro-American newspapers, said that there’s a demographic challenge that the Black Press needs to address.

“We seemed to get distracted by our quest to go after the dollars and we forget that we also have to go after readers,” said Oliver. He said that the playing field for newspapers has never been more level and that taking advantage of social media will be the key to capturing market share in the new digital news delivery space.

Oliver added that his staff at the Afro has grappled with social media for eight years, but saw a breakthrough about two years ago when Facebook started to allow users to “like” articles from their cell phones.

The number of “likes” on the Afro’s Facebook page jumped from 15,000 to 100,000 in a month, said Oliver. Now, the Afro’s Faeebook page is closing in on 430,000 “likes” Oliver said, adding that the Afro also has 11,000 Facebook followers in India.

“I’m excited about what we’re about to do,” said Oliver. “Within the next 3-5 years, if not sooner some startling innovations, not only technologically, but also as a result of some of the programs that the NNPA is about to promote and create will form a foundation so that we can reconnect all segments of the community in a way that has never been done before.”

Chavis recommended developing new revenue streams, including a leased photographic images service, similar to Getty Images, mounting regional polling services to take advantage of the upcoming 2016 election cycle, and launching a national public awareness campaign on criminal justice reform.

Shanks suggested that Black newspaper publishers show a greater willingness to engage in what’s going on with the younger generation through social media, especially through student government associations at Black colleges.

Shanks said that a negative experience with a reporter in the mainstream media influenced him to change his major from communications to English, but that he’s reconsidering a career in journalism after Black Press Week.

“[Black Press Week] taught me that you can be authentic in journalism and still tell the story,” said Shanks. “It’s about finding the audience that audience that wants to hear it and the publication that wants to put it out.”

The upcoming 75th NNPA annual convention in Detroit, Mich., will also feature “the first day totally dedicated to uplifting, mentoring, and encouraging our youth to prepare for leadership, entrepreneurship” in the Black Press, said Chavis.

He added, “We have come a mighty long way from Freedom’s Journal [the nation’s first Black newspaper] to today. We have made progress. But we still have a long journey ahead.”

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